Sunday 14 October 2007

Brown's challenge

Today's polls, giving the Tories leads of 4 and 7 points cap a bad week for Gordon Brown, though his personal ratings remain stronger than David Cameron. Contrary to the excitable reports on some of the media, as Anthony Wells points out, it puts the Tory lead back to their March levels, and is not quite the 'biggest lead in 15 years'. Moreover, these figures are truly woeful for the Liberal Democrats, as Labour's vote at 36-38% is higher than earlier this year when it was 30-33% - Labour needs a Liberal Democrat recovery at the Tories' expense to win in key marginals.

But that isn't the main message of the last week. Polls are very volatile at the moment, and it is possible for Brown to recover. But as John Hutton told Andrew Marr this morning, this will require him to set out a very clear vision of where he wants to take Britain and his government in the months ahead. And it needs to be about more than neutralising his perceived weaknesses of the Blair years or his opponents' tax plans, though the latter was probably good politics and in a better week would have been seen as such. Brown showed he could deal with crises during the summer, and he probably owes his continued strong personal ratings to that; he must now show how is proactively going to lead the country as a reformer at home - focusing not just on those areas he championed as Chancellor, but on wider public service reform - and as a force for change in the wider world, championing environment and global poverty issues. As Andrew Rawnsley puts it in today's Observer
He needs to prove that he can be a good governor. That means spending less time obsessing over how he can wrong-foot his opponents and much more time thinking
about how he can put the country right. That demands more statesmanship and less gamesmanship. It's a strange thing to say about a man who waited for the job for so long, but the thing that Gordon Brown most needs to do is act like a leader. If he wants to be a long-term Prime Minister, then he needs to start behaving like one.
His ability to meet that challenge will decide whether the last fortnight was a blip or the beginning of something more serious.

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